Sexual abuse prevalent against teenagers in the United States


In a recent review, about 35% of participants reported experiencing online child sexual abuse.

A large proportion of teenagers experience sexual abuse, according to a recent review.

Child sexual abuse is defined as sexual activity with a child that is coerced, unwanted, or involving a large age gap, making the encounter nonconsensual. With technology and the new forms of communications it has created, new avenues for child sexual abuse have arisen.

In recent years, concerns have been expressed over the use of social media for sexual abuse against children. Cases of online sexual abuse, online sexual solicitation, online grooming, image-based sexual abuse, child sexual abuse image production, sextortion, and nonconsensual sexting are all variations of abuse determined by educators, physicians, police, and parents.

There is a need to categorize the scope and diversity of these offenses, requiring a great amount of empirical work. Data on abuse from other youth, friends, family, and romantic partners must also be considered. To define and evaluate these new forms of abuse, investigators conducted a survey study representing a national population.

The survey was conducted from November 19, 2021, to December 29, 2021, using KnowledgePanel, a nationally representative online panel. Random probability sampling was used to recruit participants based on mail addresses. Panelists were aged 18 to 28 years, with 2639 panel members participating in the survey.

At least 1 case of technology-facilitated abuse before the age of 18 years was reported by 933 participants. Those with multiple instances of technology-facilitated abuse had their earliest instance prioritized for the study. Participants were more often female and slightly older compared to the standard population distribution for people aged 18 to 28 years.

Yes or no questions were asked for 9 different forms of sexual abuse: nonconsensual image misuse, nonconsensual image taking, forced image recruitment, threatened sharing, unwanted sexual talk, unwanted sexual questions, unwanted sexual acts requests, voluntary older partner, and commercial activity.

Participants were also asked questions on online solicitation, online child sexual abuse, image-based sexual abuse, nonconsensual sexting, self-produced child sexual abuse images, online grooming by an adult, revenge pornography, sextortion or sexual extortion of children, and online commercial exploitation. Stata/SE software, version 17 was used to analyze data.

Unwanted sexual occurrences taking place online were the most reported form of abuse, followed by unwanted sexual talk, then unwanted requests to engage in sexual acts. About 23% of participants experienced one of these examples of online solicitation during their childhood.

Cases of being threatened, forced, or pressured into sharing sexual images were reported by about 10% of participants. Engagement of sexual conversation or sharing of sexual images was reported by almost 9% of participants, nonconsensual image sharing by about 5%, nonconsensual image taking by about 2%, and about 4% for being threatened with sharing of images.

Commercial talk was reported by about 2% of participants, commercial images by about 1%, and other commercial activity by almost 1%. Nonconsensual sexting was reported by about 7% of participants, online grooming by about 5%, and sexual extortion by about 4%.

Participants most often experiences episodes when aged 13 to 17 years, with offenses against children aged 12 years and younger occurring in under 16% of cases for each category. In about 75% of cases, the perpetrator of the offense was not known by the victim.

These results indicate that a large proportion of teenagers and adolescents experience some form of online sexual abuse. Investigators urged professionals to develop prevention and interventions strategies against online child sexual abuse.


Finkelhor D, Turner H, Colburn D. Prevalence of online sexual offenses against children in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(10):e2234471. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.34471

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